How to keep your New Year’s financial resolutions

ByJill Schlesinger /MoneyWatch/ December 28, 2012, 6:55 AM

(MoneyWatch) When you think about it, New Year’s financial resolutions may be easier to keep than losing weight or quitting that smoking habit. According to a study by Fidelity Investments, 62 percent of consumers say they stuck with their financial resolutions in the past year, compared with only 40 percent who kept their other resolutions.

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Shop at Home for the Holidays

Thinkstock (r) / liquidlibrary

Does the thought of making your way through crowded malls and shopping at 20 different stores only to wait in long check-out lines have you feeling like the Grinch? Shopping online during the holiday season can save time and minimize stress, but know a few simple rules before you dive into the world of online purchasing.

1. Only buy from familiar companies. Confirm the seller’s contact information in case you have questions or problems in the future. Know exactly what you’re buying. Carefully read the product description. Remember–if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

2. Protect your privacy. Read and understand the company’s online privacy policy and keep any personal information, passwords, or PINs (personal identification numbers) private. Look for these signals indicating that you have entered a secure Web page:
* A screen notice that says you’re visiting a secure site
* A closed lock or unbroken key in the bottom corner of your screen
* The first letters of the Internet address you are viewing change from “http” to “https”

3. Pay safely. After you review all terms of the sale, such as cost for shipping, delivery date, and return policy, you are ready to buy. Credit or charge card payments offer consumers the most protection. Finally, print all transaction records and any other useful information pertaining to your purchase.

Although online shopping allows you to virtually load your sleigh with just a few mouse clicks, practice safe browsing this holiday season.

Celebrate International Credit Union Day: Local Beginnings Bring Global Change

The credit union idea arose centuries ago as people worked under a common effort without thought of profit – they put out fires, harvested crops, and avoided high-priced loans by lending to one another.

In the 1850s, hard times hit Germany, and people turned to each other for help. They removed small savings from under mattresses and made reasonably priced loans to one another, forming the original credit unions. In the 1920s, Edward Filene took cooperative finance to the next level in Boston, as a means of lifting working people out of debt and creating a better life.

On January 17, 1927, the Credit Union League of Massachusetts celebrated the first official credit union holiday. January 17th is the birthday of Benjamin Franklin, America’s “Apostle of Thrift,” who credit union founders believed to symbolize the purpose and spirit of credit unions. During this time, the credit union movement was new and spreading. People involved only began to recognize the celebration’s significance and were unable to devote the time required for sufficient planning. Credit Union Day quietly faded away.

The U.S. Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and CUNA Mutual Insurance Society initiated a new national Credit Union Day celebration in 1948. The third Thursday of October was set aside as the national day of observance. This occasion brought members together to promote the credit union philosophy nationally and reflect upon credit union achievements and history. Members raised funds for the movement and paid homage to loyal supporters and pioneers.

The World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), established in 1971, assists credit union movements and supports their development around the world. WOCCU observed the first International Credit Union (ICU) Day more than 30 years ago, and continues to endorse global celebrations. The credit union movement has grown to 188 million members in 100 countries. Celebrate the credit union difference during this year’s ICU Day – October 18, 2012.

Barbecue Tips for Independence Day

Try some great barbecue recipes this holiday  by learning about what the Top 500 restaurants are doing.

via Barbecue Tips for Independence Day.

ADVISE FOR TEENS: Summer Sun, Fun … And Money!

Summer is around the corner.  So how can you earn some cash?

Begin by asking yourself: What do I most enjoy doing? What am I good at? What special gifts or skills do I have? Here are a few ideas to start:

Love animals? If you have experience caring for pets of your own, you could provide a dog-walking service, or a pet-bathing service. Or you could be a pet-sitter for people on vacation.

Enjoy kids? Babysitters are always in demand. Get special babysitter training at your local Red Cross ( or YMCA (

Are you a good learner? Maybe you’d be an excellent teacher, too. Start a tutoring service to help younger kids improve their reading, math, or science skills over the summer.

Do you love working outdoors? Think of jobs that will keep you outside. Mow lawns. Wash cars. Weed gardens. Or if you have a plot of ground big enough, grow vegetables, berries, or flowers to sell at an outdoor stand.

Have a knack for arts and crafts? Maybe the beautiful things you like to make are items others would like to buy, whether it’s jewelry, stuffed animals, greeting cards, t-shirts…

Like to be on the move? Become a go-fer. Run errands for people who are too busy or physically unable to get to the pharmacy, the grocery store, the library, or the video store.

That’s just a starter list. You take it from here! The key to success is to get the word out about your services or products. Develop a good-looking flyer and post it–with permission–on bulletin boards in neighborhood grocery stores and libraries. You also could pass out flyers door to door, but not in people’s mailboxes. (By law, only U.S. mail can go in mailboxes.)

As you pursue your projects, be sure to let your parents know what you’re doing and where you are at all times. That will spare them worry. And you’ll have a fun, safe, money-making summer.

Hop on Over to Hopewell: Slide Show

Hop on Over to Hopewell: Slide Show.

Mark These Key Birthdays in the Coming Years

If you’re in the middle years of life, you remember reaching Sweet 16, turning 21, and enduring over-the-hill jokes on your 40th birthday. When we approach 50, we look ahead to key birthdays–or half-birthdays–related to our retirement planning. At specific ages, we can or must take certain actions.

Age 50: At 50, it truly hits us that retirement is around the bend. This is a good time to consider long-term care insurance, as it will be more costly when you’re older. Also, pay down debts and begin to think about how you’ll take your pension plan payouts.

Age 55: You can withdraw funds from your 401(k) or other qualified plan at 55 without paying a 10% penalty tax for early withdrawals–if you’re leaving your current employer. You’ll pay taxes on withdrawals.

Age 59½: At this age, you can withdraw funds from your regular IRA, 401(k), or other qualified plan without paying penalties. Again, you pay taxes on withdrawals.

As with 401(k) or other qualified plans, you can take early penalty-free withdrawals from your regular IRA, too. But the rules are more complicated.

You must take those IRA withdrawals–which can begin at any age–as “substantially equal periodic payments” that continue over a five-year period or until you reach age 59½, whichever happens later. Beginning withdrawals at 57, for example, means you’d have to keep taking them until 62, or face penalties.

Early withdrawals from IRAs or qualified plans are best reserved for emergencies. In fact, don’t rush to withdraw funds just because you reach age 59½. The longer you leave that money tax-deferred, the better.

Age 62: Now is the time to decide whether to take early Social Security benefits. Doing so will mean smaller monthly checks—for the rest of your life-than if you waited until full retirement age. But you likely will get checks for more years by starting early. What’s the best move? It depends on your health, expected life span, and finances.

Ages 65 to 67: This is the full-retirement-age spectrum for Social Security benefits, depending on when you were born. Or you could wait until age 70 to start taking benefits and get bigger monthly checks.

Whenever you’re retiring, sign up for Medicare three months before you turn 65. Signing up late means you’ll pay higher premiums for Medicare Part B.

Age 70½: This is when you must begin taking required minimum distributions from your regular IRA, whether you’re working or not. If you’re in a 401(k) or other qualified plan and you’re still working at 70½, you can wait to take your first minimum distribution in the year you retire, if your employer allows that.

Failure to take your distribution results in a hefty penalty: 50% of the difference between what you should have taken and what you actually took. You must take your first required minimum distribution by April 1 in the year after you turn 70½. From then on, the distribution deadline is Dec. 31 each year.